Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tokyo Diary (Day 3) Edo-Tokyo Museum and Asakusa

(Here was what I wrote at the end of Day 3, but didn't finish it because I was very sleepy)

So far my excursion into Tokyo has been a pleasant ride. Finding my way around hasn't been as difficult as I imagined it to be, and people have been generally kind when I ask for help.

It is strange but in some ways Japan feels a bit more like America than a completely different place. I haven't exactly figured out why, but I think the infrastructure here is similar to America. The streets and city layout seem similar. Korea, too has an organized infrastructure like America but I think it is Korea's huge apartment complexes with the large numbers on the side, which leave me feeling out of place.

In other words, I am trying to say that I feel very comfortable here. Maybe that is easy for me to accomplish considering I am just here for 4 days and staying in a cozy hotel.

But here we are at day 3 of my journey and already I am starting to feel like I will miss this place. I think come tomorrow night (Friday evening) I will wish I had seen more. Yet, having 4 nights and 5 days to myself here is a blessing in itself.

On with it! We have a lot to cover for day 3. Today I went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku and then to Asakusa to see the Senso-ji Temple.

I woke up to a gray rainy scene outside, but decided to give my plans a go-ahead despite a soggy forecast.

Approaching the Museum:
Along my path to the museum's entrance I walked by the metro's bridge. There were bikes lined up along the side. Interestingly, along the wall was a mural.

The museum was having a special exhibition of palanquins. These were the modes of transportation back in Edo period Japan. I was excited to see this exhibit because it is difficult for museums to showcase these artifacts, due to their large size.

However, every Grandma and Grandpa around Tokyo seemed to want to see the exhibit as well. I realized this as I joined the long line of anxious and excited Japanese seniors getting their tickets.
Palanquin Exhibit:
You can be proud of me on this one, because I didn't risk taking any pictures inside the special exhibition. Not only because there were "no photo" signs everywhere, but there were too many people around that I thought would give me the stink eye.

So what you are going to get instead is my literal take on the exhibit.

First let me explain the scenario inside the exhibit. It was very popular and everyone was crowded inside. But not in massive clumps, rather everyone took to forming a line and circumambulated their way around the exhibits. If you weren't in the line than it was very difficult to see what was under the glass cases. The objects in the glass cases were scrolls and various peices of laquerware. I got my nose in here and there, but the line moved so slowly I didn't feel like joing the snail pace.

Thankfully, the actual palanquins were large enough that you could stand anywhere and get a good look at them.

One word: Opulant!

Rich in its own history and relating somewhat to a rickshaw, these palanquins were more than just vehicles. For the amount of decoration and splendor put into the surface and interior of these vehicles certainly make them symbolic of Edo's opulant nature.

If you are more interested please read about it here.

I spent a good deal of time looking at the interiors of the palanquins. This is because inside the walls were lined with screen paintings. The ones that caught my attention were those done in the Genji Monogatari story. Since I was able to recognize the imagery instantly I felt all that time studying Japanese Art in college finally came to use.

I left the exhibit feeling priveledged at catching the exhibit but also in dire need of getting away from the crowd.

Why look who I saw on my way out! (Tezuka's Astroboy)
This museum was huge and so I started from the lobby and went up to the 3rd floor.
But the 3rd Floor was outdoors, something which would have been more enjoyable had the weather not been rainy and cold. It was a meeting place and also the only designated area where you could eat and drink. (There was an indoor part that was heated.)

6th Floor: Edo Zone
Taking a few escalators up from the outdoor 3rd floor took me to the 6th floor. This where the museum showcases life size and model size replications of what Edo period looked like. Also there were exhibits of kimonos, laquerware, and objects from the working class.

Now let me get this out of the were allowed! I repeat pictures were allowed. There were signs with a camera on it and an "ok" symbol followed with the words "okay". Some had the same imagery but with a "No Flash" icon. And so all the pictures I took were photo-safe!!!!!!!!! >.<

You start your journey by crossing the Nihonbashi Bridge.

On the left you could see the Choya Shinbun Building.

Onari-mon the Shogun gate. (Reconstructed model) (not life size)

Turtle ornament on a Kimono.

Ok this is a type of Kimono but I forget which type, I know it has something to do with the length of the could be for a man.

Japanese Doll which was a wedding present:
In the Edo period (AD1603-1867), it was customary for the Bride-to-be’s parents to give their daughter a Japanese doll. It was believed that Japanese dolls can take away bad luck from the bride. Japanese dolls were a kind of scapegoat to avoid bad luck for bride. Recently this tradition has almost completely vanished, except for in the Japanese countryside.

Ukiyo-e Prints and Wood Block Printing Displays
When I came upon this exhibit I immediately recognized what was in front of me. Back in College I studied Japanese Art and took an interest in Ukiyo-e artwork. I was delighted to see that some of the prints in person and also a display case which showed the printing process.

They also had a recreation of the shop that specialized in selling these prints, called an Ezoshi.

The placard next to these ukoyo-e books described them as "A novel aimed at the moral training of women."

Basically this section of the museum was laid in a way that highlighted each part of life in the Edo period. One section was called "Edo Business". Goods were brought in to Tokyo from Kyoto and Osaka via cargo ships. This one is called the "Hishi-gumi no Koshi". Named as a Diamond Grid crest due to the diamond like patterns along its sides. Anyways, I liked it because my father likes to make model ships, and so I thought of him.

Kabuki Theater recreation. A part of the "Pleasure Quarter" and "Entertainment" section.

After seeing the entertainment section I looked on to the other part of this floor and pondered whether to go on. I still wanted to go to Asakusa, so I decided to cut it at that point and exit the museum.

Asakusa: Temple and Souvenir street

To get to Asakusa I had to take the JR metro and transfer. I noticed that most of the metro stations were above ground, except for other lines that were specifically underground. This kind of above-ground travel is similar in feeling to San Francisco's Muni. I enjoyed waiting for my trains because the scenery was more interesting than if I were stuck underground.

I got off at Asakusa station and found my way out of the underground exit system. Along the street I caught site of an incense / Buddhist store and made a mental note to stop by one my way back.

I think one of the more splendid aspects of traveling, or living in another country, is being able to have an outsider eye. When visiting someplace new you are keen to the broader picture. For example, what would appear as a normal street corner or sidewalk area becomes to the outsider a unique picture. I found such an image while walking towards my destination.

I really liked how the yellow cab was placed in front of this shopping market, along with the pyramid like architectural detail above.

Kaminarimon Gate: Entrance to the Temple grounds.
This whole area is set up for a tourists delight. First you enter through this large gate, which has a huge lantern hanging from it in the middle. Everyone stopped to get their picture taken in front of it, or in my case just to capture the image.
After you pass under the gate you immediately see this gateway of souvineer shopping. Along with people passing through it and also a lot of foreign tourists. I have to say that Tokyo felt more diverse than Seoul. That is because I saw more varieties of foriegners from Western parts of the world and also Eastern. Walking through this shopping street I heard dialects in Chinese, Australian, French and other ones unknown to me.
Like any good tourist attraction and souvineer street the shops catered to that kitsche aspect of selling one's culture to the public.

Ice Cream display~


I can imagine this place a real gem during the spring with trees blossoming. However, I still was enjoying myself seeing all the different things for sale. I just did some window shopping at first and made mental notes of things to check out on the way back.

After walking for a while you finally start to approach the Senso-ji Temple, as can be seen with the roof in sight.

This is the second gate, called the Hozomon.
This two-storied gate to Sensoji Temple has been called Niomon Gate since the olden days. Destroyed by fire in 1631, it was rebuilt by Iemitsu Tokugawa in 1636. It stood for three hundred years until it burned down in the massive air raids of 1945. In 1964, it was rebuilt...

Sensoji-Temple: Prayer and Purification
I was so delighted to see this place. History and spirituatlity seemed to mingle together here in seemingly gentle harmony. (Japanese website for reference)
Sensoji Temple
Sensoji Temple was built to enshrine a statue of the Kannon that was discovered in the Miyato River. The temple prospered and declined over the years until it became directly affiliated with Hiezan Enryakuji, the head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. At present, it is independent as the head temple of the Seikannon sect. The official temple name is Kinryuzan, but it is also known as Asakusa Kannon and the residential building is called Denpo-in. As one of the most famous temples during the Edo era that attracted many worshippers among the common people, it is also the place where popular Edo culture originated.
Before I went up the steps to enter the interior of the temple I checked out what was going on in front.

Temple Rituals:
As a person with no formal training in Buddhism (just an historical knowledge) I was very curious as to what the people around me were up to.

On a rack were tied papers, an image which was familiar from watching Anime and Japanese movies.

As I looked around more I saw that participants were getting the papers by going through ritual of drawing out a fortune stick from a steel container. After some research online I found the name for these things:
Querents shake labelled sticks from enclosed metal containers and read the corresponding answers they retrieve from one of 100 possible drawers.
Keep in mind that there are no instructions hanging about telling you what to do. At a glance you may think it is just a tourist gimmick. But it has meaning towards Japan's history of Shintoism and Buddhism. When you think about it, a long time ago before there were the instruments to predict the weather or extensive health care, people realied and other sources to diving what would happen to them in the future. And of course that would be fortune telling.

The Omikuji papers were retrieved by first getting the stick which had Chinese characters on it (which were numbers). My semester in Chinese paid off because I found myself easily reading the numbers. After matching your number with the draw you open it and pull out a slip of paper. Both in English and Japanese it told you whether you had good or bad fortune for the day. Let me just mine were a little ominous (I tried twice).

But I tied my fortunes to the rod in hopes that would cure me.
The omikuji predicts the person's chances of his or her hopes coming true, of finding a good match, or generally matters of health, fortune, life, etc. When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree in the temple or shrine grounds. A purported reason for this custom is a pun on the word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb 'to wait' (待つ matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer.
Anyways I found that participating in these rituals enhanced my experience.

Incense Purification:
Turning around and using my nose I caught site of a incense purification spot. The scent was heavenly and sensual at the same time. Temple incense seems to have a scent that is calming. Visitors here would buy a small pack of incense and then burn it to free the smoke. Afterwhich they would place it inside this couldron. Where then they stood in front and fanned the smoked over their body. I participated, but should have not breathed so much do to ingesting the temple smoke. But hey maybe that means my innards are now purified as well. ;)I think what was so great is that when I went home my hair still smelled of incense, something nostalgic and mindful.

Gomagi (prayer stick):
At the same stall where you can buy the incense to burn for purification were some sticks laying in front of the window. As the curious person that I am I inquired with the sales lady inside as to what they were for.

She told me that people buy the stick so to make a prayer. The next morning the temple monk will burn them in a fire so that your blessing may be seen. You can choose between different labeled sticks. Some for health, wealth, luck etc. It was only 200¥ so I thought why the heck not. After you chose your stick you write the name of the person who you wish to be blessed on it along with thier birth year and age.

I bought one for good health and put BK's name on and birthdate on it. Recently he has been dealing with a cold/flu due to working so much. So this went out to him.

Chozuya: Water purification ritual

Also near the booth selling incense and ritual sticks was a water fountain with ladels. After watching others take part in the ritual I thought I had a feel for what you do.
At the purification fountain near the shrine's entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then transfer some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. You are not supposed to transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth or swallow the water.

Up to the Temple:
After purifying myself via incense (air) and water I made it up the steps to the temple. But I didn't feel like taking pictures inside due to that there was a large Buddhist shrine. So instead you get this picture looking out from the top of the steps of the Temple.

Inside the temple was an area to throw a coin and make a wish while giving a prayer. I did this but didn't do it for long because I was worried some of the Japanese there would cringe.

I left the temple and looked at the Five-story pagoda:

I saw some little birds hopping about~
Shopping on Nakamise street:
Well I headed back the way I came and down that long shopping street. This time I was ready to empty out my wallet and use the ¥. Along the way there many stalls that repeated themselves:

  • Cell phone charms and other doo-dads
  • Japanese cloth crafts like purses and mirrors
  • Traditional Japanese cakes and sweets
  • Toys
  • Kimonos
  • Ukiyo-e prints (not authentic)
Here for you are some of things I saw which caught my attention.

Obama cakes~ just a picture..didn't buy any. It caught the attention of other tourists.

Gumball machine with souvineers inside~

Miniature plastic sushi and pastries.

On my way back to the hotel:
I spent alot down that street and came out with some gifts for myself and others. There were some things I walked away regretting not buying. But it was just fun to be a tourist and do the tourist thing.

Heading home I felt very fulfilled with the day I had spent in Tokyo. As I left the first gate and walked towards the street I saw these guys standing there. They are the rickshaw pullers that run the streets here for the tourist. You can get a ride in a rickshaw, but it is really expensive.

Turning the corner I came upon a little grocery store, in the front they were selling some turnips or daikon radishes...don't know~
Then I came upon that incense store and the aroma coming out of the store was so fragrant and lovely that I was drawn in. Let me tell you they took a bite out of my stashed ¥ in my purse.

After a subway ride home and walking back to my hotel I spotted this street art:
And so I finally end my story of Day 3 in Tokyo. Looking back I have to say compared to the Ghibli Museum visit this was the best day I had there. Mostly because I saw the museum and experienced temple rituals at Asakusa.

Dinner that night wasn't anything fancy, just ramen and a store bought salad.

*Stay tuned for Day 4 and 5 as I wrap up my trip to Tokyo. I am currently busy unpacking and readjusting to a snowy Korea.


  1. Whew...Joy - no wonder you were tired the next day!
    I'm tired from just reading about all you did & saw in one day! AND I haven't read all the descriptions & links, etc.... yet either.
    I know it was v. wonderful for you to see your Japanese art textbooks come alive!
    I'm so happy you took your trip to Japan. It sounds like you felt that way too!

  2. Thanks Mom~ I know I wrote a lot on this one. It was just a very memorable experience.

    Now as my vacation comes near to its end I can't help but reflect on the time I spent in Tokyo.

    Ah need to earn some money. ;)

  3. Interesting to hear about the omikuji, as I saw something similar (lingqian) used within Daoist temples in Taiwan. I wonder if it originally had roots in Daoism and was later incorporated within Shintoism / Japanese Buddhism?

    Having also read Genji Monogatari that would have been awesome to see the screen paintings. After reading the 18th century "Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong" three years ago and then having the chance to see some of her calligraphy this past spring I can certainly understand how you felt!

    I'm glad you had a good time on your trip!

  4. Samedi~ I definitely feel after doing some reading about the Omikuji that there is a link to Daoism. As we all know these religions and spirituality traveled around Asia with the Silk Road.

    Oh and seeing the Genjo Monogatari inside the palanquins was such a treat! I could imagine what it was like to be a woman of that time inside the palanquin with the walls covered in the story.



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